Call it a revolution or astoundingly fast progress, Spain once a laggard, is setting the pace in Europe today when it comes to wine and food.
Spanish red wines once over aged and lifeless now burst with fruit, supported by just the right amount of oak flavours and velvety textures are now conquering the palates of English, German, American, and Canadian connoisseurs.
Ever since Spain joined the EU in 1986, research funds poured in to improve vitivinicultural technology. This, coupled with the entrepreneurial zeal of young winemakers led to the development of regions that were well suited but never knowledgeably exploited,
Spain is a relatively large country with substantial acreage both on the sunny Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Grapes have been cultivated here for centuries starting with Phoenician traders well before 900 B.C.
The Mediterranean coast is particularly suitable for red grapes. carignane (carinena), mourvedre (monastrell), tempranillo, garnacha (grenache) and mazuelo grow particularly well. Now young winemakers use small amounts of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah to provide fine nuances to their full bodied and deeply flavoured wines.
Connoisseurs know Rioja’s and Ribera del Duero’s red wines well and admire their delicacy, longevity and taste dimensions. Their popularity is reflected in high prices.
Less well known, but potentially excellent Spanish regions are: Priorat, just west of Barcelona; Conca de Barbera, next to Penedes; Somontano, northwest of Barcelona; Navarra, east of Rioja; Toro west of Ribera del Duero on the famous Douro River, Rias Baixas north of the Portuguese border on the Atlantic Ocean, Valdepenas south of Madrid and Jumilla.
Navarra produces fine rosé wines from garnacha (grenache), but is now cultivating red wine production using tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. J. Chivite is of the best in the region.
Priorat was, until recently, a sleepy, poor region. Now young winemakers like A. Palacios, R. Barbier, and many others produce astounding wines from garnacha, carinena, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.
Look fort the labels of Celler de Scala Dei, Masia Barril, Costers del Siurana, Alvaro Palacios (Clos de l’Obac, L’Ermita), Rene Barbier (Mogador).
Torres from nearby Penedes bought land and planted vineyards here. You can look forward to very exciting wines from this progressive winery when the vineyards start producing suitable grapes.
Somontano’s wines are akin to Bordeaux with maximum alcohol levels of 12.5 percent ABV versus 14 percent and more from regions mentioned above. Here pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, tempranillo, monastrell yield delightful, medium bodied wines for early drinking pleasure. Look for Vina del Vero, and Bodegas Pirineos wines.
Toro was once a “famous” red wine region exporting in bulk to Bordeaux for blending after phylloxera decimated their vineyards. Later, cereal fields were established to feed a hungry market, but in the last decade a few farsighted vignerons decided to reestablish the vineyards and now Toro’s red wines from tempranillo are gaining rave reviews from wine writers everywhere.
Look for Frutos Villar, and Bodegas Farina labels.
Riax Baixas just north of Portugal enjoys a decidedly cooler climate than Mediterranean coastal regions and is famous for its albarino grape that resembles riesling in its fruitiness, acidity and refined texture.
Spanish red wines have always represented good value and now that wineries man aged by young well-educated winemakers pay attention to producing fruity wines with a touch of oak to support texture they have become extraordinary.